Thursday, December 17, 2009

Portugal Trip Part 2 - Porto (Oporto?)

OK, I know I began the last post with an apology too, but I have actually been pretty swamped with schoolwork lately so it's hard to justify giving priority to working on something that won't be graded. But since I presented a play to my class yesterday I am gonna take a break for a little while and do my best to recount the first stop of my Portugal voyage, the lovely city of Porto. The title of this post refers to the fact that in Spanish the city is called Oporto, while in Portuguese (you'd think they'd know) it's called Porto - and according to Wikipedia both are used in English. I guess we'll go with Porto, since it's one fewer letter to type and I'm all about efficiency.
Porto is Portugal's second-most important city (after Lisbon, obviously) and is the capital of the Norte region of the country. It's a two and a half hour bus ride from Vigo, but since Portugal is in a different time zone than Spain the clock went back an hour when we crossed the border bridge, even though we were traveling due south. I got to Porto around 10:30 in the morning on Saturday and immediately went to the train station to buy my train tickets for the rest of my journey. The salesman was very helpful and spoke excellent English, but unfortunately he turned out the be the exception, not the rule. He even knew that Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy! I felt a little guilty for knowing so little about the history of his country, even though I was in it. Leaving the train station, the second thing I had to buy was an umbrella. Porto, being in the northern part of Portugal, has a climate very similar to Galicia, where you may recall my other umbrella was destroyed by obnoxiously strong winds and rain. As such, rain is very common in the fall and winter, which I experienced firsthand. With my newly acquired essential items in hand I headed to the metro to check into my hostel.

My first encounter with Porto. That's the train station on the right, the umbrella store is over there on the left, and you can't really see the metro stop in the middle of the photo, since like many metro stops it's mostly underground. Also notice the church in the background with th azulejo tiles, this was a fairly common decorative style for Porto.

I checked into the hostel without any problems and got settled into my 10 bed dormitory, then asked the girl at reception where would be a good place to go eat, because I was getting really hungry. She recommended the waterfront area in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is just across the river Douro from the main part of town. On my map it didn't look that far, and who am I to ignore the advice of a local? I decided to mosey that way, taking some pictures along the walk. Unfortunately it continued to rain pretty steadily during my trip, so the stroll around town was not as pleasant as it could have been. But hey, at least I got to see Porto in it's typical climate, which makes for a more authentic visit I suppose.

Another church with azulejo tiles.

Cool park with crazy Portuguese trees.

I have another picture that I took where the tower isn't crooked, but just look at that bird in flight that I managed to capture. Seriously, how could I not show you guys this one? Also, this is the tower of the Igreja dos Clérigos (Church of the Clergy), on of Porto's landmarks which can be seen from many parts of the city.

"Borracho" means "drunk" in Spanish, so I thought "A Principal Da Borracha" might be some kind of awesome bar, but it turned out to be a fabric store. This wouldn't be the first time the Portuguese language would get the better of me . . .

Characteristic street of Porto showing the hilly topography of the town. And by hilly I mean many of the sidewalks were actually staircases. Exhausting.

Hey I found the Portuguese Chik-fil-a! Actually these turned out to be pork, as I found out when I had 3 of them for dinner.

As the steady rain turned into more of a downpour and I was only halfway to my destination, I decided my best option was to take the metro the rest of the way. Unfortunately, when I got off the metro on the other side of the river I found myself at the top of a hill, with the restaurant zone at the very bottom. I stood there for a while seriously contemplating whether I wanted to go down there, and if it would be worth having to climb back up the hill afterwards. In the end I did make the trip, and I'm glad I did, because you just can't let laziness keep you from seeing stuff in another country, no matter how tired and hungry you are.

Funny mistranslated sign on the metro train. Got to make sure you know that Emergency Plant! For safety, you know.

View of Porto from the top of the hill I seriously debated not descending.

Some rabelos, which are the boats that were traditionally used to transport port wine from the vineyards up-river to the warehouses in Vila Nova de Gaia were it was aged. Vila Nova de Gaia remains the center of port wine production, and a wine can only be called a port wine if it is grown in the designated growing area in the Douro Valley and aged in Vila Nova de Gaia.

I looked around the waterfront of Vila Nova de Gaia for a cheap restaurant, but it's kind of an upscale area, so I splurged and went for a traditional Portuguese meal (when in Rome, right?). The following four pictures will chronical this experience.

I was famished, so I ordered an appetizer of Portuguese hams and cheeses to nibble on while I waited for my food. The cured ham and sausage (chouriço) were very similar to their Spanish equivalents, and the cheese was very strong. I haven't tried much Spanish cheese though, so I can't really compare them. In the photo, the cheese with the white outer layer was much easier to spread on bread and didn't have as much of a bite as the other, so it was the one I preferred. I didn't get the names of the cheeses though.

I asked for the national beer of Portugal, and this is what I got. Pretty tasty, and I did see it everywhere for the rest of my travels, so I guess the waitress didn't just bring the stupid tourist the most expensive beer on the menu like I originally thought she had.

Well it turns out the most typical Portuguese food is cod (bacalhau), and even though I don't really like fish I decided to see this thing through and ordered the Bacalhau à Portuguesa, which according to the menu was breaded and fried and came with potatoes (fish and chips?). It was only when the waitress took away my normal knife and fork and brought me these that I realized I had no idea how to eat cod.

Bacalhau à Portuguesa. Pretty delicious, it didn't even taste that fishy. I guess you could say I like cod? Weird. I particularly enjoyed how the breading was really crunchy, until I looked closer and realized I was eating a bunch of tiny fish bones. Oops!

I finished the rest of my meal, with the fear of terrible stomach complications looming over me, and headed back out into the rain. I placed a 2 euro, less than 2 minute cell phone call to my dad to see what he thought about the possible ramifications of eating a bunch of cod bones, and was reassured when he told me that it's common to eat the bones of some fish. Before heading back across the river I had to check out a port aging warehouse, because how can you go to the capitol of port production and not see how it's made. It amused me to imagine what my parents would think of me voluntarily touring any kind of wine making facility, but it was only 4 euros and there were samples at the end, which was motivation enough for me.

I chose the Sandeman cellars to tour, mostly because of their giant sign and the large groups of foreigners standing around outside it. They also have a sweet logo, it reminds me of Zorro! Fun fact: port wine is made by allowing the wine very little fermentation time, so that more of the natural sugar remains and the wine stays sweeter. Then they add neutral grape alcohol (used to be brandy but now it sounds like it's something similar to grappa) and let it cure in barrels for multiple years.

Our caped tour guide explaining how they use the hydraulic pressure inside the tank to show how many liters it contains. Boooring, what is this, Fluid Mechanics? I already learned and forgot that junk like two years ago. Bring on the wine.

According to the guide, there are three types of port wine: ruby, tawny, and white. Ruby is made from just one vintage and is aged in the bottles; it is sweeter and the most expensive variety. Ruby also has the most tannins, so it's the least "smooth" of the varieties. Tawny is made from a blend of grapes and aged in barrels for a long time, which makes it lose the fruity taste and have a more spicy or nutty flavor - this is the most popular type and is what most people think of as port wine. And white is made from white grapes, and is also very sweet, though I don't remember what they age it in, probably barrels. The sample on the left is a tawny and the sample on the right is a white.

I took a bus back across the river so I wouldn't have to climb that evil hill, less because of laziness than because of fullness and drunk-ishness at this point, and got back to the city center of Porto. The rain had mostly let up at this point, so I continued to walk around and see the sights. I explored the newer part of town and then went to the Cathedral and the oldest part of the city, in particular to a very sketchy part of it with many abandoned buildings and Portuguese people looking at me with a "what are you doing here" expression.

Avenida dos Aliados, kind of the main drag in Porto, with many Neoclassic and Romantic buildings. This road reminded me of the Calle Uria in Oviedo, which has a lot of similar looking buildings.

Me in front of the Porto City Hall

Wait a minute . . . What are you doing here?

View of part of Porto from the terrace in front of the Cathedral. Notice the tower of the Igreja dos Clérigos, one of the tallest buildings in the city.

The Cathedral of Porto, or the Sé do Porto. The Portuguese word for Cathedral is , which means "seat of a bishop", so later on we will see the Sé do Lisboa. This particular is the oldest building in Porto, having been completed in the 13th century.

Street in the old part of town, remember when I told you that some of the roads were actually stairs?

Another cool view of the , from the neighborhood below it's terrace.

Goodnight, Avenida dos Aliados

As the sun went down over basically the same picture I showed earlier in the post, I was content that I had seen pretty much everything that Porto had to offer and headed back to the hostel, stopping along the way to buy some pork sandwiches and a coke. I read the book I had brought for a little while then ate and used the hostel computer, discovering all the fun Portuguese letters I could type. As I was going to bed I met another girl in my room who had also come from Oviedo for the weekend only, and we chatted for a while. She is an English teacher at one of the local elementary schools, but it doesn't pay very well. She and her friend left Oviedo an hour after I had and changed buses in Salamanca, which if I had taken the time to think about it was probably a better idea than Vigo even if my bus had existed. Oh well, lesson learned. I also met a really weird old guy called "The Professor" because he's a Portuguese teacher in England, who was sleeping on the bunk below mine. He was the oldest person I've ever seen in a hostal by at least 20 years, and between the sound of him snoring and the cars on the cobblestone street outside the window I didn't sleep very well.
I got up the next morning and showered before heading down to the complimentary breakfast (cornflakes!), where The Professor proceeded to weird out me and everyone else in the room who spoke English by having a long conversation with me about American terms of endearment. I heard my last dialogue was a bit of a hit, so let's see if I can reconstruct this one for you guys.

The Professor (with a very strange, kind of flamboyant sounding accent): "When would you call someone 'honey' in English?"
Patrick (trying to concentrate on cornflakes): "What?"
The Professor: "When would you call someone 'honey' in English? I went to the United States and the woman who was picking me up said 'Hello honey!' So I said back 'Hello darling!'" (The professor pronounced both of these phrases in a very drawn out and enthusiastic manner, with the facial expression to match)
Patrick: "Oh, some people say that to be polite. Especially in the South, where in the United States were you?"
TP: "Texas. I was just confused because I thought it was something you only said to people you know."
Patrick: "Generally, but in the South people have a reputation for being very friendly and women may call people they don't know honey to be hospitable."
TP: "So would you call someone you didn't know honey, or only people you know?"
Patrick: "I don't call anyone honey. It's really more of something an older woman would say. I don't think young people say it."
TP: "Do you call your mother honey?"
Patrick: "No. I don't call anyone honey."
TP (getting up to leave the kitchen): "Ah ok, I find languages so interesting." (to the room) "Goodbye, hunnies!" (leaves)
(Patrick shakes his head, exchanges looks and stiffled laughter with the rest of the Americans in the room)

That's pretty much how it went, but the conversation was actually much longer. I feel like I might come off to you guys as kind of a jerk, but that's only because I can't do a good job of conveying The Professor's strange personality in this format. And I'm not knocking him for trying to learn, I admire that. It was just an unusual conversation with a very unusual person. Shortly afterwards I left the hostel and took the metro to the train station, where I caught my 10:52 train to Lisbon. More on that sometime in the hopefully near future.


  1. Nice post, "honey!" I really liked this quote of yours: " just can't let laziness keep you from seeing stuff in other countries, no matter how tired and hungry you are." Bravo! -- Dad

  2. I'm going to remind you of that quote the next time you want to just sit on the couch all day.

  3. Really enjoyed your dialogue! I am sure you are meeting many interesting people on your travels. Finally getting around to reading your blog again.
    Keep it up!! Karen, your Va. Beach cuz...bye honey!!